Friday, May 30, 2008
Between Three Worlds - Battlestations!
"Now when it comes down to religion and I'm finished with this. When it comes down to religion it's all about God. But God is not of any one religion. HE CANNOT BE. Religion is really like glasses that we wear on our eyes. This pair of glasses that I have on I wear them because I see best out of them… I see best out of them. If you put my glasses on you cannot see out of my glasses. I am a Christian because it is the Christian faith that allows me to see God best out of my eyes. My brother is a Muslim because he sees God best out of his eyes. It's how we see God. . . and its one common thread that runs through all faiths and all religions and that is the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all mankind. We are here today because we are of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all men".
This is just one of the challenges facing the black church and black community today. It is a dual threat that involves a denial of the central message of scripture which is God’s saving work of His people through the person and work of Jesus Christ along with the exaltation of a religious system that pushes Christ to the margins and enthrones ethnicity into the center. Like other threats to the black church and black community this one does not have a specific correlation within the predominant culture. It’s therefore an issue that is not usually addressed by evangelicals. This is why many black reformed brothers and sisters see a definite need and call to bring reform to the black church and black community. Most of us have no desire to further ethnic division and we most certainly don’t wish to begin a new black reformed church. We do acknowledge that God’s providential activity among our people calls for us to pointedly address the issues that have sprung from that activity.
I’ve already mentioned what I believe is the main threat to biblical Christianity within the black community, namely the wild popularity of prosperity theology. As I wrote previously prosperity theology is akin to a neo-liberalism with the black church and community. It is a theology in that it defines (or redefines) the church’s historic convictions regarding revelation, scripture, God, mankind, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, the atonement, the Holy Spirit, the church etc. In doing so 21st century prosperity theology has trod the same path of 20th century liberalism. It seeks to be viewed as authentic biblical Christianity while in fact being a completely different religion.
A third threat to the historic black church and by extension to authentic biblical faith continuing within the African-American community is related to the quote that began this post. Its seeds are in the nature of the historical black church’s development in general and in its role in leading the struggle for civil rights in particular. The intensity of the Civil Rights struggle led many black congregations and pastors to view the gospel through the lens of human civil rights. For these churches the central message of scripture and therefore God’s main agenda was to secure civil rights for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. It would be a mistake to confuse this view with Black Liberation Theology. That’s because these churches and their pastors did not feel that God was on the side of black people just because they were black. Rather they held to the conviction that it was the black church’s mission to side with any group that suffered injustice and furthermore that the main mission of the black church was to press for civil rights for all.
The continuing and in some areas growing presence of the Nation of Islam though not spoken of much is in my view another serious threat to the continued presence and influence of biblical faith in the greater African-American community. NOI has gained a foothold in many of our cities just as the hypocrisy produced by theology prosperity has taken off in black America. Think of how it must look to young black men who see and hear of how members of ‘the nation’ look out for the local community while the local church just looks to move out. What can we say when Muslim’s appear to emphasize modesty, discipline and community while we wrap our lives around material excess all in Jesus‘ name?
A fifth factor which impresses many black reformed brothers and sisters to impact our people and culture is the gross tribalization of the living God. By this I mean that many (perhaps far too many) in the black community view the Covenant Lord of scripture as no more than a local tribal deity whose main priority is to grant us a life of overall happiness and well being. This view of God was acted out (literally) on a popular television show that featured four African-American friends. In one episode the character apparently believes she’s found the man of her dreams and then following some sex in the suburbs with him got up from the bed, got down on her knees and thanked the Lord for being so good to her and sending her such happiness. Remember this is happening at the exact time when the prosperity gospel is the dominant theology of many if not most regular church going African-Americans.
But there is at least one more thing that must be mentioned. Whether it’s the politicized social gospel of the historic black church, the Black Liberation Theology of a small (yet at times vocal) segment of the black church or the over the top health and wealth theology of some of today’s black mega-churches and their mini-wannabes the tie that binds them together is the centrality of the needs, wishes and idols of black people. Though they may have taken different paths to get there each is intent on leading the black church and by extension black people down the road to idolatry.
Dearly loved ones in Christ it is my view (and I recognize that I’m just one man) that for the first time in our four hundred year history on these shores the black church may be in serious danger of losing our witness to the black community. We may actually be the generation that looks back and wonders what happened when the black community in which we were born and nurtured has little if any resemblance of genuine biblical faith, worship and practice. We have pastors who openly deny the exclusive person and work of the Lord who bought us with His own blood, charlatans who without conscience take from the poor to enrich themselves and the pied pipers of a false religion given time and space to spout their rebellion from our pulpits!
But we also have Jesus Christ the Lord of glory, Lord of the gospel and Lord of His church. We have the word of God which is still sharper than any double-edged sword. We have the real power of the Holy Spirit who can and is still giving new life to those dead in sin. And we have God the Father who has caused us to look over this new valley of dry bones so that by His grace and power He might use us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ so that His church can once more stand on scripture alone and declare that men and women are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for God’s glory alone.
To Him Who Loves Us…